Every tourist destination has something that attracts visitors. New York City has the bright lights of Broadway, museums of every description, Central Park and so much more. Philadelphia has Fairmount Park, the steps of the iconic stairs leading to the Museum of Art and Reading Terminal Market. There is an incredible sense of awe in visiting our nation’s capital. And the amazing music of Nashville.
All of it is wonderful, but the one thing none of them have is a beach.
And that is something the Outer Banks has in abundance—some of the finest beaches anywhere.
Other places have beaches and other places have a lot of things to do, which we also have on the Outer Banks, so we thought it might be interesting to look at some of the other East Coast beach destinations and see how we stack up.
Myrtle Beach has gained a reputation as an all-around resort and it tries to have something for everyone. Interestingly though, its beach may not be the city’s number one attraction.
The Beach Experience
With over 100 miles of beach from the Virginia state line to Ocracoke, the Outer Banks is sure to have a section of beach that will appeal to just about anyone. Because the beach is so important to what the Outer Banks is, there are some things that have been done here that an urban setting, like Myrtle Beach, have not done.
Or perhaps better said, there are some things that have not been done here that Myrtle Beach has permitted or championed.
Any picture of the Myrtle Beach shoreline tells the story—towering hotels line the beach.
That is not the case on the Outer Banks—there are no 25 or 30 story buildings directly abutting the beach. The tallest hotel in the area is the four-story Hilton Garden Inn in Kitty Hawk, and although it is beachfront, it is set well back from the shoreline.
As a consequence, one of the things that our visitors often notice about the Outer Banks beaches is that from morning until sunset, when the sun is out, it’s warming the beach.
The tall hotels right on the beach in Myrtle Beach block the sun in the afternoon.
All those hotels lining the beach also create an access problem. The beaches in North and South Carolina are in the public domain, meaning they are public property and anyone is permitted on them. North Carolina is a little more open in how public domain laws are interpreted, but for the most part, if you are on the beach you are permitted to be there in either state.
However, access to the beach is not a public right, and that’s where massive the hotels lining a few miles of beach becomes a problem.
In most areas of the Outer Banks, there is free public parking, either right on the beach or immediately adjacent to it. Southern Shores, because of where property lines are, does not have public access to the beach, although ample parking is provided for residents and guests.
Myrtle Beach does have public access to its beaches, but the parking lots are metered and controlled by the city of Myrtle Beach. Depending on the location of the parking lot the cost is between $1.75-$2.00/hour.
The Family Vacation
Much of the contrast between metered parking and the free parking on the Outer Banks is found in differing views of what a family vacation is.
With its heavy emphasis on homes in close proximity to the beach, the Outer Banks is geared toward one and two week family vacations. A family that is planning an extended visit is going to be more comfortable in a home than a hotel or motel. Myrtle Beach does have weekly rentals, but the selection is limited compared to the Outer Banks. Most lodging is in hotels and motels. Although a hotel or a motel works well for a shorter stay, most families will find an extended stay in a hotel is expensive and inconvenient.
With very few exceptions, beach resorts advertise themselves as being family-oriented and that is an important part of how Myrtle Beach and the Outer Banks are marketed. There is, though, a very real difference in how the family experience is viewed.
Myrtle Beach, with a population roughly equivalent to the Outer Banks in an area about 10% the size, is much more of an urban-like setting. There is a boardwalk that brings a lot of businesses and entertainment together and there are at least three amusement parks in the city.
The Natural Side
The Outer Banks is geared toward experiencing the area as an environmental event. There are a number of businesses offering kayak tours of the sounds. One of the most exciting things to do on the Outer Banks is to take a wild horse tour to see the Spanish Mustangs of Corolla that live in the 4WD area of Carova.
Something that sets the Outer Banks apart from other coastal resorts is how close the beauty of nature is to where our guests are staying.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore extends south from South Nags Head to Ocracoke with beautiful beaches, some of the best fishing in the world, vistas of wetlands and marsh, and hunting opportunities.
Surrounded by CHNS, Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge on the north end of Hatteras Island is a birder’s paradise, especially in fall when thousands of migratory waterfowl arrive.
There are also four protected maritime forests along the Outer Banks with trails suitable for any age. Nags Head Woods in Kill Devil Hills is the most easily accessed.
Jockey’s’ Ridge State Park in Nags Head is the crown jewel of the Outer Banks concept of something for everyone when it comes to family vacations. The highest natural sand dune on the East Coast, it is one of the finest places in the world to fly a kite. Adding to how wonderful flying a kite at Jockey’s Ridge is, there is an outstanding kite store just across the street.
And for anyone 80 pounds and up that want to try their hand at flying a really big kite, hang gliding lessons are available at the park.
Because Myrtle Beach is much more an urban setting than the Outer Banks, it is better able to support live theater. The Outer Banks does have, of course, The Lost Colony, the longest-running outdoor drama in the United States.
Beyond that, though, there is relatively little live theater locally.
What the Outer Banks does have are some of the finest musicians to be found anywhere, and from mid May through September they are a regular part of an evening’s entertainment at quite a few bars and restaurants.
The Outer Banks also boasts a number of outstanding music festivals, including the Duck Jazz Festival, a free two day festival bringing some of the finest jazz musicians to the town.
In addition to the Duck Jazz Festival, there is the Outer Banks Bluegrass Festival and a spring and fall Mustang Music Festival. The festivals include some of the best known names in bluegrass, blues, jazz, and a number of other genres.
What Myrtle Beach Does Have
There are some things that Myrtle Beach has that the Outer Banks does not.
As an example, there is an airport with regularly scheduled commercial flights. That may be a bit of a mixed blessing. Many of our visitors like the fact that the Outer Banks is a little bit remote, a little bit more difficult to get to than many other tourist destinations.
The Myrtle Beach area also boasts far more golf courses that could ever fit on the Outer Banks. The Outer Banks has golf courses—some very good ones. The Rees Jones designed Currituck Club and Tom Steele designed Kilmarlick have both been used for tournament play.